GrogHeads Reviews 1775: Rebellion, Digital Version
Ardwulf makes a guest appearance with his review of HexWar’s new adaptation of Academy Games’ 1775: Rebellion. How does the boardgame translate to the computer? ~
Gary Mengle, 28 October 2016
1775: Rebellion, from boardgame publisher Academy Games and PC developer HexWar and now available through Steam for Windows, Mac and Linux, sits uncomfortably between the kindred worlds of board and PC strategy gaming. An adaptation of Academy’s well-regarded Euro-style board game on the American Revolution, it translates the source material very faithfully but will leave PC-focused strategy gamers unsatisfied.
1775 tells the story of America’s revolution against the British Empire. There are seats for two teams of four players each, but the game can just as easily accommodate two players taking both sides of their team. French and Hessian units can enter play on the sides of the Americans and British, respectively, while Native American units can enter play or become controlled by one or both sides.
The key concepts of the game lie in control of the states and in the art of moving units around on an area map of the American colonies by activating them through card play. A given card can activate one force to move up to three spaces, or up to four forces to move one space each. Cards also deliver events, like the alliance with the French, or personalities, like George Washington and Betsy Ross. Combats are resolved as confrontations between units decided by a roll of a limited pol of custom dice.
The UI is clumsy; familiar as I am with the boardgame I found myself struggling to figure out how to do basic stuff like play cards and move pieces. Do pay attention to the tooltips, but the manual available through the game itself, while useful for explaining the rules, is basically useless at explaining how to manage the controls.
Because of the UI, the game feels very awkward by the standards of PC strategy games. On top of that, while it makes for a fine Euro-style boardgame, the gameplay is incredibly shallow by that same standard. The boardgame doesn’t have a deep mathematical model underlying it, and this computer adaptation doesn’t either. Veterans of games like Civilization may not find much here to keep them engaged, even without bringing to bear the heavy guns of Paradox’s grand strategy titles.
Likewise, the graphics of 1775 are not awful by any stretch, but they’re not going to blow the top of anyone’s head off, either. The opening cinematic looks like something that the Total War series was including ten or fifteen years ago. The rendition of the game’s playspace is faithful to the physical board — handsome enough but not at all flashy – and the animations are both sparse and modest. The graphics aren’t bad enough to be a turnoff to what I perceive as this game’s potential audience, but they’re no selling point.
Fans of the board version should have no reason to be displeased with the adaptation, at least once they get the hang of the interface, which really won’t take very long.
On the other hand, a literal, straightforward adaptation of an elegant boardgame only works insofar as the original does. Thankfully, the original works very well, and all of its features are reverently replicated here. As far as I can tell there are no rules differences at all. Fans of the board version should have no reason to be displeased with the adaptation, at least once they get the hang of the interface, which really won’t take very long.
A reasonably competent AI opponent is available as well as multiplayer, and it’s in the latter mode that 1775: Rebellion works best — as a new way to play a very good strategy boardgame. The AI opponent plays quite well, although I was never quite sure if “difficulty” was achieved by the AI fudging dice rolls or whether I’m just terrible at a strategy game this abstract. Were I a betting man I’d put money on the latter, but the slight statistical advantage held by the British factions seems really apparent even in the tabletop game, where really only the Americans’ French allies are a straight-up match for Redcoat regulars.
Where 1775 takes flight, though, is in the multiplayer, where it stands a chance of replicating the social and competitive aspects of the tabletop version. The means by which multiplayer is accomplished, requiring as it does registration with HexWar, is only a little onerous. And you can play both “live” and by e-mail at whatever pace you like.
1775 has its issues, but the ham-handed controls are something that won’t stop anyone for very long. The larger hurdle is that it’s simply not terribly interesting when held up against a typical, even casual, PC strategy title. Players of those will likely not stick with 1775 for very long, while fans of the board version wanting to play the same way should be pretty happy with the digital package. I also think it would be a wonderful addition on tablets, if that happens at some point, and much more competitive in that space.
My recommendation is positive but qualified. If you’re an avid player of, say, Europa Universalis IV, then HexWar’s lean PC adaptation of 1775: Rebellion is going to seem pretty flat. I’d wait for a sale or a tablet port. On the other hand, if you’re into Eurogames with a historical veneer and would (or do) enjoy the boardgame, then you might want to grab this with both hands, minor creakiness aside.
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided to this reviewer.